Durham Convention Center
Saturday, Nov. 15–Sunday, Nov. 16
I’m sitting at a table in a hotel ballroom at an undisclosed location on the East Coast.
To my left, a Stormtrooper with a boom box that’s been playing the X-Files
theme on a loop for the past two hours has decided to dance in front of his table. He appears to be doing the Electric Slide.
To my right, a vampire clown is attempting to bum a cigarette from the now-adult actor that played the little kid in the Child’s Play
films. This is not a dream. This is life on the comic convention circuit. This is my life: Con Life.
I’ve been on the comics scene for a decade, but I still consider myself a newbie. As one of the smallest fish in a massively talented pond, I’m one of the thousands of folks trying to make a career writing comic books now. By the end of this year, I will have been a guest at 26 comic book-related events or conventions. Last year, it was more than 30.
My childhood pal and constant table-mate, Bo Fader, is an amazing artist, and he and I rarely turn down an invitation to any show. We have books to promote, people to meet, flesh to press and miles to travel. It can be a grind but … I love it. And it produces some amazing road stories.
The scene above is from our “Year One”—our origin story, if you will. Let’s return to that moment. It’s probably the third show we’ve ever done, and even so, I can tell that it’s not going very well. It’s a three-day event and we’re only halfway through the first afternoon, but I’m already scared.
Bo saw a toy from the movie Alien
that he wants to buy, but so far, that’s been the high point. We’ve been sitting at the table for hours and not one person has come by. Worrisome, especially when the owner of the convention walks up with a look that reads as very sad, or perhaps very constipated. I ask how it’s going.
“Not good, boys,” he says gravely. “Should be more people. My head hurts. I could just kill myself.”
Although I feel that it’s probably unprofessional of him to be scaring me like this, I pipe up and beg him to please not kill himself. I say that the show will most likely get better, right? He just mumbles something and walks off. As the Stormtrooper begins Electric Sliding to the X-Files
theme, Bo says, “This might be a bust. I’m gonna go ahead and buy that Alien before we bail.”
But Bo decides not to purchase a toy he can't afford, and we focus instead on drawing some new pieces to sell. I’ve got my head down, scribbling something, and when I look up, an older gentleman has sauntered over to the table. He begins to peruse our display of the comics we write and draw, especially the zombie drawings—famous cartoon characters we’ve redrawn as the undead. This nice fellow seems intrigued.
“You turn people into zombies?” he asks.
“Well, mostly cartoon characters, but yeah, we can zombify anyone!” Bo says. He is jubilant. This might be our first sale of the day.
“You should do Old Zeekle,” the man says, smiling back.
I do not know who Old Zeekle is. I look at Bo. He does not know who Old Zeekle is. “Oh … um … who?” I smile weakly. We are going to lose this sale.
The man says nothing and continues to look through the zombie book. I shoot a glance at Bo. Can the man not hear me? Bo looks confused as well, but he is relentless, and asks: “Who is Old Zeekle?”
The man looks up slowly, but does not acknowledge the question. He stares at both of us and we uncomfortably stare back.
“Eh,” he grunts and walks away.
We’re both smiling now. That was weird, and if we weren’t going to make a sale, at least we had something funny to cheer us up.
“Who the hell is Old Zeekle?!” Bo chokes out between laughs. And of course, the older gentleman hears him.
Ah, come on. He’s like five tables down the row and now
he can hear us?
“$%&# YOU!” he shouts, extending the boniest middle finger I have ever seen. I’m not joking. It’s like his gnarled hand was made for the sole purpose of giving the greatest middle finger the world has ever known, and we are lucky enough to be the recipients.
It freaks us out and we shut up. We weren’t making fun of the guy; we’d just had a crappy day and were genuinely cheered by the exchange. But life is too short to dwell. It was lunchtime, and my stomach was growling like Chucky from Child’s Play
. If we could at least get some hotel chow, it would be the only win of the day.
Bo grabbed what little money we had and went off to find the arena concession stand in search of filthy corndogs. When he came back sans corndogs, he had a horrible look on his face.
“What’s wrong?” I asked. I was cranky and my stomach demanded filthy corndogs. “Where’s the food?”
“Come on,” Bo said gravely. “You gotta see this.”
I followed him to middle of the convention center, which wasn’t visible from our table, and tried to discern what he was on about.
“Look.” Bo pointed to a giant banner hanging on the far wall.
It was a massive, majestic portrait of a man in repose—of the older gentleman
. It said he was “Guest of Honor.” It said he was a “Ghost Hunter.”
It said his name was “Ron Zeekle.”
“Ah, #$#%,” I said. How were we supposed to know he wanted us to draw him
We sat back at our table after obtaining the corndogs, which were, in fact, quite filthy. It wasn’t long before the owner of the show dropped back by to have words with us. He looked suicidal as usual, and he begged us not to curse at the guest of honor anymore.
We could have fought it, arguing that it was actually Old Zeekle who cursed at us; that his crypt-keeping finger had shown us great malice. But we stayed quiet. We realized we’d kinda been dicks and had learned a valuable lesson. That happened a lot at first, and we eventually recorded such lessons in our “Con Rulebook.” Over the years, we’ve crammed the book full.
A few selections from the Rulebook we'll be keeping in mind at NC Comicon this weekend:
—Always be respectful of everyone at the show.
—Be aware of the guests you’ll be around at the show.
—You’re lucky to be here. Act like it.
—Don’t touch anybody. I don’t give a damn how cool their costume looks.
—Always be on time. (We struggle with this one.)
—Always stay until the show’s over. Never desert your table, even when beer awaits. (We struggle with this one.)
A decade of screwing-up makes for a fairly enormous rulebook, but those will do for now. I’ve got some insane convention stories, like the time a convention manager asked us to kill a ghost. Seriously. Ask me about it at NC Comicon.
Chapel Hill’s Brockton McKinney is the writer of Ehmm Theory (Action Lab Entertainment) and
Freddie Mercury: Agent of Champion (Red Stylo). He is also a contributor to the anthology Torsobear: Yarns from Toyburg. Find him on Twitter @BrocktnMckinney and learn more at Lost Story Studios.